For more than a decade my work has involved frequent travel, and I have periodically lived overseas for extended periods of time. However long or short my absence or exciting my trip, I am always thrilled to arrive back home in Los Angeles.

Downtown LA. Click through for image source.

A fine December day in L.A.

My current visit has been no exception. Despite the lengthy series of flights and the usual indignities and inconveniences of air travel, I stepped off my flight at 6:35 a.m. with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. I breathed in and exhaled deeply, and slipped easily back into L.A. life …

… morning rush hour … several meetings in different parts of the city … a Baja burrito for lunch … a movie on Hollywood Boulevard … fussing over our olive and lemon trees … scanning the unfenced wild back slope of our property for signs of our resident family of deer … dinner at Fabiolus, our friend Fabio’s Italian bistro on Sunset Boulevard … a foray to stock up on supplies from one of the four large 24-hour supermarkets within walking distance of our house … treating myself to frozen yogurt with lots of blueberries at Pinkberry … unpacking.

Hollywood. Click through for image source.

My old neighborhood. We now live up the hill, to the left of the H.

The next day I visited the U.S. Commercial Service’s West Los Angeles Export Center and held discussions with the fine folks who work there. I had a vegan lunch in West Hollywood with an elder of the Samoan community. A couple more appointments followed, and I ended the workday meeting with a young Angeleno artist, Nathan Huff, whom we will be bringing to New Zealand shortly for a curation exchange project that I’m working on.

Then Dr McWaine and I drove the 90 minutes up to Ventura to see our great friends Vana and Kevin and their canine companions Sebastian and Wilson. We all ended up at Joe, Mary, Amanda, and Gianna’s house in Camarillo for a fine dinner of homemade pizza from Joe’s outdoor brick pizza oven.

Observatory. Click through for image source.

The Griffith Observatory and the L.A. basin, viewed from Mt. Hollywood.

I spent the next day with the Samoan diaspora in Southern California. I drove the hour down to California State University, Long Beach for a 2-hour roundtable discussion with a dozen dynamic Samoan students representing various local groups, including the University’s Islanders Association.

We had a lively conversation about civic engagement, volunteerism, exchange programs, and multiculturalism. We brainstormed about how the students could develop projects that would increase educational opportunities and enhance quality of life back in Samoa. We also talked at length about how the students could become community ambassadors and plug into the work that our Embassy in Apia is doing.

The blue pyramid of Cal State Long Beach towers above the campus. Click through for image source.

The blue pyramid of Cal State Long Beach towers above the campus.

The student discussion spilled into lunch. After lunch I met with several members of the Samoan business community to discuss trade opportunities, small business development issues, and related topics. After that I drove from Long Beach to Wilmington for a discussion with Samoan ministers and other elders, and then a larger community town hall meeting.

The instructive and productive (for me) day ended wonderfully with a traditional sua and feast at the First Christian Church of Wilmington. I am very grateful to Val LiHang-Jacobo, Pastor Earle Anesi, and Papali’i David Cohen for all their work in putting together such a broad and dynamic schedule for me.

My first apartment in L.A. Click through for image source.

My first apartment in L.A. was the lower unit (next to the tarot card reader) near the end of this blue and white building on Ocean Front Walk, which runs along the beach in Venice. I loved this location, but motivation became a problem.

The next couple of days were filled with meetings largely focused on educational institutions in the L.A. area.  For example, I spent a productive afternoon at the University of Southern California where I met with various professors, the Dean of the Law School, and the Director of the Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School. I came away from the meetings with a barge-load of interesting ideas and new contacts that should enhance our work at the Embassy. Plus, the bouncing around the metro area reminded me of the many reasons I love living in Los Angeles.

I first set eyes on Los Angeles in 1984 when I spent one of my law school summers as an intern at a law firm there. Frankly, I had no intention of moving to Los Angeles after graduation, and I just thought it would be fun to visit the city during the Olympic Games. To my surprise, I fell in love at first exposure to L.A. … an immense, dynamic, willful, wildly diverse, explosively creative, improbably beautiful, protean polyglot reveling unselfconsciously in its own natural eccentricity and instinctive iconoclasm. A perfect fit.

The first reported gay rights parade was organized in Los Angeles in 1970.  Here, a typically colorful and political parade in West Hollywood, the municipality on Earth to have a openly gay-majority city council. Click through for image source.

A typically colorful pride parade in West Hollywood, the first municipality anywhere to have an openly-gay-majority city council. The first reported gay equal-rights parade was held in 1970, here in Los Angeles.

The City of Los Angeles – with the full birthname El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula (The Village of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of the River of Porziuncola) – is 498 square miles (1,291 square kilometers) in size and contains approximately 4.2 million people. For those interested in economics, it’s a dynamo. In 2008 Forbes named L.A. the world’s 8th most economically powerful city.

The Greater Los Angeles metro area covers five counties – Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside, and San Bernardino – and contains more than 23 million people. With an annual economy of about $850 billion, this megacity is an economic powerhouse that ranks as the third largest metropolitan economy in the world, behind the Greater Tokyo and New York metro areas. If it were to secede from the United States, the L.A. metro area would be the 12th largest national economy on Earth, ahead of countries such as the Netherlands and Indonesia.

Just a regular Southern California freeway. Click through for image source.

One of our Southern California freeways.

From afar the most visible component of the economy is Hollywood … widely loved, widely loathed, universally coveted, obsessively followed Hollywood … the epicenter of Earth’s motion picture industry.

Creativity and innovation in L.A., however, have not been limited to the entertainment sectors.

Hollywood sign. Click through for image source.

The iconic (and trademarked) Hollywood sign.

L.A. has historically been a center of aerospace research and development, and it has vibrant biotech, pharma, renewable energy, hardware, software, CGI, and other technology-based industries. Techie friends of mine tell me that L.A. has a claim to being the birthplace of the internet because the first Arpanet transmission was sent from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1969.

Driving innovation are numerous corporate R&D centers and an extensive higher education network. There are more than 4 dozen universities and colleges in the metro area, including the world-class behemoths University of Southern California (where I taught law school and where Dr McWaine went to medical school), UCLA (where Dr McWaine taught clinical psychiatry), Cal Tech, and University of California, Irvine.

Santa Monica Pier. Click through for image source.

The Santa Monica Pier, a great place to spend a warm evening after a day on the beach.

What most attracted me to L.A., though, was not its economic engine but its natural beauty. The city runs from the wide sandy beaches of the Pacific to snow-capped mountains just east of the downtown business core to the edge of the glorious Mohave Desert … from 9 feet (3 meters) below sea level in Wilmington to 11,500 feet (3,505 meters) at the top of Mount San Gorgonio.

We in L.A. are blessed with a Mediterranean climate … annual average daytime temperatures of just above 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius), more than 3,300 hours of sunshine per year, and only between 7 and 15 inches (180 – 384 mm) of rain per year. The mountains within the city limits receive snowfall every winter.

California poppies in bloom. Click through for image source.

California poppies in bloom.

So … what do Angelenos do besides stoke their economy and enjoy the sunshine?

I’ll let you know in my next post. I have to sign off now and get dressed for New Year’s Eve dinner. I don’t want to end 2010 on the wrong foot.

Click through for image source.

Again, Dr McWaine and I wish you and yours the very Happiest of New Years.